John Merrow recently served as a judge for the Education Writers Association’s annual reporting awards. While admiring the high quality of journalism that he read, he used his post to excoriate Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings for a self-serving opinion piece that they wrote in The Washington Post.

“Here’s the story that shouldn’t be ignored: The proponents of disastrous ‘school reform,’ which has given us 20+ years of ‘test and punish’ & such, are now positioning themselves as voices of common sense. Exhibit A is this recent Washington Post column by two former Secretaries of Education, Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings. One guided the Department under George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind,” and other created the infamous “Race to the Top” program.

“Their breath-taking chutzpah begins with the title of the piece: What ails education? ‘An absence of vision, a failure of will and politics.’ But their opening sentence actually tops it: “We have long benefited from a broad coalition that has advanced bold action to improve America’s education system.”

“Just exactly who are the WE that have benefited from the ‘bold action’ that the Secretaries refer to? It’s far easier to identify those who have NOT benefited from “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” Let’s start with students, because their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which everyone agrees is education’s ‘gold standard,’ has basically been flat for the 20+ years of Bush and Obama. Next on the list are teachers, whose salaries and morale have declined over the years of increasing reliance on multiple-choice testing and ‘test-and-punish’ policies. Collateral damage has been done to the occupation of teaching, which has lost prestige and now fails to attract enough candidates to fill our classrooms with qualified instructors.

“So that’s–literally–millions of students and teachers who have NOT benefited from the ‘broad coalition’ that Duncan and Spellings are so proud of.”

Who benefitted from the Duncan-Spellings billions and mandates?

Testing corporations. Ideologues who want to fracture public education. Profiteers. “And–surprise–the two former United States Secretaries of Education. One now leads the University of North Carolina higher education system, and the other is one of three Managing Partners of The Emerson Collective, Laurene Powell Jobs’ very wealthy and active education venture.”


He then goes on to enumerate the “reformers” who are now backpedaling or mansplaining, all to avoid responsibility for the disasters of the past 20 years. They (including Duncan and Spellings) are the people we need to be reduced from, says Merrow.

This is one of Merrow’s best pieces. He is on a roll.